30 November 2016

Simulated Differences in 21st Century Aridity due to Different Scenarios of GHG and Aerosols

Science

Aridity, defined as the ratio of precipitation (P) to potential evapotranspiration (PET) over land, is critical to natural ecosystems and agricultural production. Global climate models project global decreases of P/PET (drying) in the 21st century. We examine the uncertainty of aridity projections due to scenarios of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and aerosols with three sets of ensemble simulations from a single climate model, the Community Earth System Model (CESM1). 

Impact

Ensembles consist of two Radiative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) and a scenario with RCP-like GHGs but with aerosol precursor emissions and atmospheric oxidants fixed at the year 2005 level. Under a high GHGs emission scenario (RCP8.5), global land P/PET decreases (drying) by 6.4 ± 0.8 % in 2060–2080 relative to 1985–2005. A GHG mitigation scenario (RCP4.5) would reduce the drying (P/PET decrease) to 3.7 ± 0.6 %. Although future aerosol emissions reduction would increase P, we find that it has little impact on global aridity due to offsetting effects on PET. Regionally, deceasing aerosols can have significant effects and aerosol-induced P/PET changes are due to different factors across different regions. 

Summary

When normalized by global mean temperature response, GHGs decrease global land P/PET by 2.7 ± 0.6 %/°C and surface temperature changes dominate GHG-induced P/PET change.

Contact
Andrew Gettelman
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)